Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why should good deeds fade like mist?

The haunted place--marked by foul deeds that have left their residue to linger until their hold is broken--this is a common trope in supernatural fiction, drawn no doubt from myths, legends, and speculation about actual experiences that are difficult for the materialist to explain.

I offer here for your reflection an excerpt from Secret Worship by Algernon Blackwood, where his occult detective named John Silence is speaking with a man whom he has just rescued from an encounter with a haunted place.
"Devil-worship! Here—!" Harris stammered, aghast.
"Yes—here;—conducted secretly for years by a group of Brothers before unexplained disappearances in the neighbourhood led to its discovery. For where could they have found a safer place in the whole wide world for their ghastly traffic and perverted powers than here, in the very precincts—under cover of the very shadow of saintliness and holy living?"
"Awful, awful!" whispered the silk merchant, "and when I tell you the words they used to me—"
"I know it all," the stranger said quietly. "I saw and heard everything. My plan first was to wait till the end and then to take steps for their destruction, but in the interest of your personal safety,"—he spoke with the utmost gravity and conviction,—"in the interest of the safety of your soul, I made my presence known when I did, and before the conclusion had been reached—"
"My safety! The danger, then, was real. They were alive and—" Words failed him. He stopped in the road and turned towards his companion, the shining of whose eyes he could just make out in the gloom.
"It was a concourse of the shells of violent men, spiritually developed but evil men, seeking after death—the death of the body—to prolong their vile and unnatural existence. And had they accomplished their object you, in turn, at the death of your body, would have passed into their power and helped to swell their dreadful purposes."
Harris made no reply. He was trying hard to concentrate his mind upon the sweet and common things of life. He even thought of silk and St. Paul's Churchyard and the faces of his partners in business.
"For you came all prepared to be caught," he heard the other's voice like some one talking to him from a distance; "your deeply introspective mood had already reconstructed the past so vividly, so intensely, that you were en rapport at once with any forces of those days that chanced still to be lingering. And they swept you up all unresistingly."
Harris tightened his hold upon the stranger's arm as he heard. At the moment he had room for one emotion only. It did not seem to him odd that this stranger should have such intimate knowledge of his mind.
"It is, alas, chiefly the evil emotions that are able to leave their photographs upon surrounding scenes and objects," the other added, "and who ever heard of a place haunted by a noble deed, or of beautiful and lovely ghosts revisiting the glimpses of the moon? It is unfortunate. But the wicked passions of men's hearts alone seem strong enough to leave pictures that persist; the good are ever too lukewarm."
This last reflection offered by John Silence struck me and I instantly asked myself, why?

Why should evil deeds leave lasting marks behind and good ones fade like mist?  Christian reflection of the sort offered by N. T. Wright indicates just the opposite--that every activity, large or small, empowered by the Holy Spirit and undertaken as an act of worship offered to God is the only stuff of this world that will indeed last.

Then why the mythology?  Is it merely that we've been told these kinds of stories and not the kind where good deeds "haunt" places to the enjoyment of those who stumble onto them?  Do such stories exist and I just haven't seen them?

1 comment:

Mikem42 said...

But in some mythologies, there's plenty of "sacred ground" scenarios. I suspect that it makes a better horror story if evil acts persist into the environment. Also it's a good literary device for setting up various dangerous situations. It's less needed for an author to set up a safe situation for the characters, but you do see that in cases where they run into a church for protection from vampires!

It could also be that 'evil' or 'impurity' is easier to create by the addition of something, where in contrast 'good' or 'purity' requires a cleansing, which is an inherently harder action. This is particularly true if the author is trying to make an allegory to the environment :-)